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I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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How To Store And Protect Your Photos | My Complete Storage System For Photographers

November 29, 2019

Photography file storage system

Storage is one of the most important parts of being a photographer. It’s also probably one of the most forgotten and least understood parts.

I recently upgraded my storage setup after going full time and working with MANY more files than I was before. It’s important to me that all of my client’s files are stored properly and protected should something happen to their copies, and that I’m treating all of my own technology properly so I don’t run into any sticky situations!

I am a self-proclaimed software lover, meaning I definitely understand it more than the average person…BUT I also have people in my life (aka Kyle) who understand it WAY better than I do. He’s responsible for the majority of my setup and education of how it all works but I’m here to translate it into “normal” terms so you can understand it too 🙂

I’ll start from the very beginning of my process to the very end when everything is all edited and delivered! 

Memory Cards

I shoot on performance level memory cards, usually a Lexar 64GB Professional 95mb/s or a 64GB SanDisk Extreme PRO. I shoot pretty fast compared to most people, so I need cards that are able to write fast and keep up. I actually don’t use CF cards because my CF card slot isn’t working (I should probably get that fixed…), but it works out because I am likely going to switch to a mirrorless camera soon and it only has SD card slots. 

I do know that you’re supposed to replace your SD cards often to avoid corruption, so make sure that you are actively doing that!

Tip For Your SD cards: It’s best practice to format your cards in your camera when you are ready to clear them because it makes sure that the card is readable by the camera before you use it, in case the computer did anything to it while you were working on it.

Rather than deleting files off of the SD card via the computer, I make sure I have everything off that I need to and then format in the camera. This way I’m starting on a clean slate before every shoot.

Just make sure that you are done with everything on the card because once it’s formatted you can’t get it back!

Working Harddrive –– Solid State Drive

When I get home from a session, I immediately copy all of the photos off of my SD cards to my “working” harddrive –– “working” meaning these are all of the sessions that I am actively editing and working on. I keep all of my recent sessions on this harddrive so I’m able to travel with it and have access to the photos for projects that I’m working on.

For this harddrive, I use a SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable External SSD. It is definitely more pricey than your average harddrive but it’s for good reason. It is a solid state drive, meaning simply that the mechanics are solid, not moving like a regular hard drive.

Have you ever heard the noise your harddrive makes when it’s plugged into a computer? That’s a spinning disk that is constantly writing as you are using it. Moving parts = opportunities for mistakes…especially if you are moving around and not keeping your harddrive on a flat surface. 

I know you’re probably guilty of it because I am the WORST with my harddrives. I edit on a laptop, so if I’m not at my desk it’s usually sitting on my lap or a pillow (not good either, haha) with the harddrive sitting next to me. If you have a regular harddrive, you are taking all of your hard work and putting it at risk with the spinning parts if you’re not paying attention!

Moving to a solid state drive has been so great because I don’t have to worry about that. My SSD actually is so durable, it’s made to be clipped on the outside of a backpack…so I feel pretty good about it!

I have the 2TB one because I want enough space to work on multiple sessions and weddings at one time, but not so much space that I increase the opportunity for corruption.

In addition to all of my RAW files, I also keep my Lightroom catalogs on my working drive. I create a new catalog for each session (or each couple since they’ll have their engagements, bridals, and a wedding) so I’m able to keep all of the files and edits together. This frees up space on my computer by not keeping a HUGE catalog file directly on the computer!

Archive Harddrives –– Desktop Harddrives

Once a session or wedding is completely edited and delivered, I move it to my “archive drives.” These are two 5TB harddrives that I have in a docking station on my desk. 

I am super proud of this setup mainly because with Kyle’s help I was able to find a solution with a TON of storage for a lower price point –– this setup was around $300 for 10TB of storage…WILD.

I purchased two Toshiba X300 5TB Performance Desktop and Gaming Hard Drives and am docking them in a Sabrent USB 3.0 at SATA I/II/III Dual Bay External Hard Drive Docking Station.

Toshiba X300 5TB Performance Desktop and Gaming Hard Drives and am docking them in a Sabrent USB 3.0 at SATA I/II/III Dual Bay External Hard Drive Docking Station

One of the drives is for all of my weddings and the other is for all of my seniors, sweetheart sessions, events, personal, and everything in-between. I have actually moved ALL of my files from my many individual harddrives to these. Once they are full, all I have to do is remove them from the dock and “archive” them. If I need to access them I can always put them back in the dock.

These are essentially just two different “naked” harddrives, the same kind that are in your computers and in the harddrive you’re plugging into your computer. I just call them “naked” because they don’t have a casing around them like your other ones do.

I know I just said how it wasn’t great to have harddrives with spinning parts and these do. The difference is that they never move from my desk and are stationary, which means there are less chances for errors!

I have these drives organized in folders by type of session > year > client > file type (unedited, culled, edited). By having a catalog for each session, it makes it easier to transfer the catalog with the files, keeping everything in one place in case I ever need to jump back into Lightroom and tweak something. 

If you only have one catalog, you will have to “find” the files when you go to edit. Not a big deal, but if the catalog is on a different harddrive than the files, you’ll have to have them both plugged in. I’d rather have the extra step of making a new catalog than having to find the files and remember which catalog they are even in. Personal preference!! 

BackBlaze –– Additional Insurance

Because I’m constantly worried about the worst case scenario, I wanted to make sure that I had a backup plan to my backup plan. What if a glass of water falls on the harddrives? Or my house burns down? It sounds crazy but crazy things happen every day.

My solution (after looking into many different options) is BackBlaze Personal Backup. With my subscription, I am able to fully backup my computer and anything plugged into it in a cloud. This is strictly for backup insurance and I’m not actively downloading anything from the cloud because I have a hard copy on my harddrives…BUT if ever I need to, I have it.

The catch with this affordable option is that my harddrives have to stay plugged in for multiple hours (read: days) for the initial backup –– additionally, if they are not plugged in for 30 days, they will be wiped from the backup. 

This works for me because I just plug in when I’m at my desk and I’m never away from my desk for more than a few days. If you’re constantly traveling you may need to have a different solution OR have a computer that lives at home and is connected to your drives.

Finding The Right Solution For You

This setup took me a lot of research, reading to fully understand, listening to Kyle’s recommendations, and then making sure it was the right fit for all of my processes. I know it can be confusing at first, but I definitely recommend reading and trying to do the setup yourself so you can fully understand how it works!

If you have questions, feel free to ask –– but also keep in mind that all technology is specific to you and I’m no IT person!!!

If you’re anything like I am, protecting your files and having a solid system in place is SO important to not only your client experience but also your mental health! It’s 100% worth the investment to have the peace of mind and being proactive rather than reactive 🙂


I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer Helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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